Achieving an Entrepreneur Vision as a Working Mom
Lisa Kroese enjoys helping families and individuals find their “aha” moment when deciding which items in their home are appropriate for an estate sale. From jewelry and artwork to furniture and collectibles, Kroese has worked as a personal property appraiser for over 17 years and today, she is the owner of Expert Estates, a successful boutique appraisal company in California.
Working in the field of appraisal and estate services, Kroese is able to combine her love for research, preserving heirlooms and helping people with her need to have a flexible schedule. As a working mother with three children under the age of 5, being an entrepreneur allows her to work in an industry she loves and earn an income while having time for her husband and children.
Kroese earned her degree in fine art from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Early in her career she worked for one of the country’s oldest auction houses, in addition to doing appraisal work for museums, families, and private collectors. Over time, she became a member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America.Some of her clients include the Estate of Gianni Versace, the Lowe Art Museum, and numerous collectors on the ArtNews’ list of Top 200 Collectors.
Today, Kroese’s company, originally launched as a startup home business, grosses over a half a million dollars annually. In addition to running Expert Estates, she coaches and trains other estate sellers, helping them set up successful liquidation businesses. She also works on her blog and writes books on the topic of personal property appraisal, all while being committed to making dinner for her family every night. While she excels at her craft, Kroese believes it is important to disconnect from work in order to connect with the people you love.
Enjoy our interview with Lisa Kroese, as she discusses her journey to become an entrepreneur as well as a working mother.
eLearners: Tell us a little about yourself. What’s your background? How did you become interested in appraisal?
I live in California and I have a degree in Fine Art. One of my first jobs was at one of the country’s oldest auction houses and I learned to appraise personal property and fine art there. I met a lot of estate liquidators and appraisers and I always thought it would be a good industry for me. I opened my estate liquidation business shortly after my first child was born five years ago. We had just moved across the country from Pennsylvania to California and I thought that would be the perfect time to start in liquidating – before I met all the people in the area who were already doing estate sales and appraisals.
eLearners:When did you decide to start your own business, Expert Estates? Did you always want to be self-employed, or was there an “a-ha” moment when you knew it was time?
I had been self-employed before as an appraiser and real estate investor. I have always liked working for myself. When I worked at the auction house, they bounced some of our paychecks and I decided it would be easier to work for myself—at least my paychecks would not bounce! Now I have expanded again and I am coaching and training other estate sellers on how to make the most in the industry and how to set up a profitable estate liquidation business.
When we moved to California I realized what a huge mistake we had made when we packed and moved so much stuff across the country. In hindsight it would have been better to just sell our things before the move and then buy new or gently used things after we had moved. After we spent so much money on movers and storage, it turned out a lot of our things were broken in the move or just didn’t go with the house we had picked out. With what we would have made on a sale and what we could have saved by not paying movers, it would have been more than enough to get the house all set up with new furniture and décor.
I really love helping people get to that ‘aha’ moment. There are some things that are irreplaceable that you might want or need to move, but for the most part, everything is easily found in any new location you move to.
eLearners: Can you explain the appraising process and how it works?
As an appraiser, I am looking at any given object’s history, condition and rarity. I look at sales records to find out the current fair market values. If you need to know the value of something, looking for an appraiser with an affiliation is a good idea. There are several different groups. I am a member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America. The International Society of Appraisers and American Society of Appraisers are also popular. Having had auction house experience really helps me in this area, you see a lot of property in that environment. If you are starting out as an estate seller and you want to learn about appraisals, there are classes you can take. You can also work with an appraiser in your area; I hire someone to help me appraise jewelry because that is not my specialty.
eLearners: As an appraiser, you come across all kinds of objects. What are some of the weirdest and most interesting pieces you’ve appraised?
Someone wanted me to appraise a mummy once when I lived in Miami that was weird. Handling estates, we of course come across all kinds of unusual things, gold fillings (still in their original owner’s teeth). Once I had something I was unsure of, it turned out to be an old scoop for making ice cream sandwiches, it sold online for $180.
Estate sales are basically events, which means that there can be crowds and tons of last-minute problems. What’s your advice for putting out these kinds of fires?
eLearners:You have to stay in control of the crowd. It is my sale, so I am in charge. I once had someone mad at me because the thing he came to the sale for had sold before he arrived and he was in my face and yelling about it. I told him he had to either calm down or leave. All of my sales are held on private property, I have never had to call the police but I have had to threaten to. There have been some sales that I have done where I have hired security guards.
And then there are always things that come up – once we had a gas leak during a sale, another time the hot water heater broke and flooded the garage, a realtor’s lock box code didn’t work the morning of our sale once.
Another time a neighbor called the police, code enforcement, and even the fire department trying to shut my sale down. But I wasn’t breaking any laws, I had to stay open – I had a contract with my client stating that I was conducting a sale, there was nothing I could do but stay open and complete my sale as far as I was concerned. And I did.
eLearners: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs? And how would you adapt that advice for working mothers?
You have to make sure you are always on top of the bottom line. Being in a service-based business, I have to make sure that I am generating lots of value for the families I help, but I also have to realize that I am helping them as a business owner. Sometimes I meet with a family that has picked over their sale or they are keeping the best items and leaving behind things that won’t sell very well. I can’t help every family with an estate sale. I do offer them other services, like clean out and donation coordination. Some are happy to have the option and hire me for that work, others are disappointed to discover that instead of having proceeds from a sale, they are going to have to pay someone to help them clean out their estate.
As a mom, I focus each morning with my family priorities. I keep my to-do lists and I include all of the things I have to do for my family along with the things I need to do for my business. Then I start and end with family needs. My business is here to help and benefit my family—keeping sight of that is important.
Clients expect a lot of small business owners, and I can deliver great results, but I also have to make sure that I have time for myself, and my family and that I am earning a good income with my business. If something isn’t working or the profits are not where they should be, reassess and adjust your rates right away. Make your business work for you, instead of you working for it.
eLearners: Any suggestions for working moms who are having trouble with work-life balance? Any tips or tricks?
The best thing to do is to put your devices on hold and really spend time with your family. It can be so tempting to be at the park for an hour thinking you are spending time with your kids when really you are on the phone or texting people about work. I try to do key things for my business at home before my kids wake up and when they are asleep, I have to work on my business all day, but the main items that will take a lot of focus and that I have to do without interruption are best done when my family is doing something else.
I try to make dinner for my family every night, sitting at the dinner table is a great part of my day and helps make that transition from business to family time. You have to set boundaries, if you are self-employed or your business can become a 24/7 distraction. It is in your social media feed, on your cell phone, and in your inbox – so disconnect for a while everyday so that you can connect with the people you love and give them your full attention.
Do you have any cautionary tales of what you’ve learned from your own work-life balance mistakes?
Yes! My biggest business mistake was when I opened my store, my husband really didn’t want me to expand my business but I did anyway. I knew he didn’t want me to add more to my plate, he was worried I was putting too much stress on us right as we were having our second daughter. If someone you love or a member in your family says to slow down or wait or if they aren’t on board yet – just hold off and put your relationship first. We still have disagreements about this topic and my husband really is right, he told me what his concerns were, but I just did not listen at all. If I could go back and change that, I would.
eLearners: What advice do you have for anyone looking to break into the appraisal business? Does it require special training?
If you want to pursue a career as an estate liquidator, I have books and a website you can check out at EstateFusion.com. You should find a mentor or coach who can help you out. And get a good business lawyer before you need one, eventually in business you will and it is easier to look for one when you don’t need them than when you have a big concern you are trying to figure out.
To learn the appraisal business, you can take courses from ISA, ASA, CAGA or other appraisal groups.
eLearners: Where do you see your company in 10 years? Are you working to expand it or are you happy with its current size?
I’m growing the business to business services and writing more books. In 2015, I handled 25 estates totaling over $200,000 in sales. That doesn’t include my store sales, online sales, or appraisal income. I like the pace I have, and the flexibility that the liquidation and appraisal industry provides, when I want vacation time, I schedule sales around the dates I want off. When I had the baby, I took off four weeks in a row. Next year, if I want more sales, I know the exact steps to take to fill my calendar! It’s ideal for me.
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